Is evolution more intelligent than we thought?

December 18, 2015, University of Southampton

Evolution may be more intelligent than we thought, according to a University of Southampton professor.

Professor Richard Watson says new research shows that evolution is able to learn from , which could provide a better explanation of how evolution by produces such apparently intelligent designs.

By unifying the theory of evolution (which shows how random variation and selection is sufficient to provide incremental adaptation) with learning theories (which show how incremental adaptation is sufficient for a system to exhibit intelligent behaviour), this research shows that it is possible for evolution to exhibit some of the same intelligent behaviours as learning systems (including neural networks).

In an opinion paper, published in Trends in Ecology and Evolution, Professors Watson and Eörs Szathmáry, from the Parmenides Foundation in Munich, explain how formal analogies can be used to transfer specific models and results between the two theories to solve several important evolutionary puzzles.

Professor Watson says: "Darwin's theory of evolution describes the driving process, but learning theory is not just a different way of describing what Darwin already told us. It expands what we think evolution is capable of. It shows that natural selection is sufficient to produce significant features of intelligent problem-solving."

For example, a key feature of intelligence is an ability to anticipate behaviours that that will lead to future benefits. Conventionally, evolution, being dependent on random variation, has been considered 'blind' or at least 'myopic' - unable to exhibit such anticipation. But showing that evolving systems can learn from past experience means that evolution has the potential to anticipate what is needed to adapt to future environments in the same way that learning systems do.

"When we look at the amazing, apparently intelligent designs that evolution produces, it takes some imagination to understand how random variation and selection produced them. Sure, given suitable variation and suitable selection (and we also need suitable inheritance) then we're fine. But can natural selection explain the suitability of its own processes? That self-referential notion is troubling to conventional evolutionary theory - but easy in learning theory.

"Learning theory enables us to formalise how evolution changes its own processes over evolutionary time. For example, by evolving the organisation of development that controls variation, the organisation of ecological interactions that control selection or the structure of reproductive relationships that control inheritance - natural selection can change its own ability to evolve.

"If evolution can learn from experience, and thus improve its own ability to evolve over time, this can demystify the awesomeness of the designs that produces. Natural selection can accumulate knowledge that enables it to evolve smarter. That's exciting because it explains why biological design appears to be so intelligent."

Explore further: New research demands rethink on Darwin's theory of 'fecundity selection'

More information: Richard A. Watson et al. How Can Evolution Learn?, Trends in Ecology & Evolution (2015). DOI: 10.1016/j.tree.2015.11.009

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Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
3.4 / 5 (12) Dec 18, 2015
It has long been known that variation and selection on alleles is formally analogous with bayesian learning by reward (positive fitness) or punishment (negative fitness) - see Dawkins for that - and that in practice the process channels Shannon information of what worked in the earlier generation's environment into the genome (Dawkins, but also many others).

Note: "evolution can learn from experience, and thus improve its own ability to evolve" is partly factual (the genetic machinery evolved), partly erroneous (mutation rates has not been optimized).

Nit: "evolution has the potential to anticipate what is needed to adapt to future environments". A meaningless description, evolution can 'anticipate' as much as blindly use what worked in earlier generations. If the environment changes, the genome has to change with it. Else something would have to time travel.
Eikka
3.5 / 5 (13) Dec 18, 2015
It's possible for a subject of evolution to evolve in a way that takes into account its own past evolution - and arguably such beings would evolve effectively than ones which simply apply random mutation - but it's not meaningfully possible for evolution itself to "learn" or be "intelligent" any more than gravity is intelligent.

Evolution is simply what happens to species and systems by circumstances, not a concrete entity in itself. To say that evolution exhibits intelligent behaviour is nonsensical in the same sense as saying "walking sings".
RoMiSo
2.2 / 5 (10) Dec 19, 2015
What these two Munich scientific clowns do is to transfer the characteristics creationists attribute to a divinity aka "God" to a process aka "Evolution". Needs anybody a better proof that science still knows nothing about whatever is more than dead material structure, animated or not by dead material processes ... That's why science is still a dissimulated creationist joke, with a religiously adulated Golden Calf, aka "Big Bang" ...
antialias_physorg
4.4 / 5 (11) Dec 19, 2015
I find it plausible that once a certain beneficial DNA sequence is hit upon it becomes easier to keep following that same path, because duplication of an already established sequence is much more likely than hitting upon a second (to the same trait) beneficial combination by chance.
Endless duplication has its downsides, but to a certain degree 'more' can be better. In this case more would be twice (or n times) the synthesis of a particular protein. I'm not sure 'anticipation' is a good word to describe this. It's more of an 'easier path to extrapolation in a certain direction'

What these two Munich scientific clowns do is to transfer the characteristics creationists attribute to a divinity aka "God" to a process aka "Evolution".

Redefining words does not an argument make.
antigoracle
2.6 / 5 (5) Dec 19, 2015
Evolution is environment driven, hence the more complex evolution itself makes that environment, then the more complex i.e. intelligent it appears. You just have to look at the billions of years of unicellular life to see how "unintelligent" evolution can be.
SuperThunder
1 / 5 (3) Dec 19, 2015
Nit: "evolution has the potential to anticipate what is needed to adapt to future environments". A meaningless description, evolution can 'anticipate' as much as blindly use what worked in earlier generations. If the environment changes, the genome has to change with it.

Thank you, I came to a screeching halt on that one and was starting to feel weird about the article.
I find it plausible that once a certain beneficial DNA sequence is hit upon it becomes easier to keep following that same path, because duplication of an already established sequence is much more likely than hitting upon a second (to the same trait) beneficial combination by chance.

Sort of like living in an environment you're adapted to adds a kind of "neural weighting" to the genes responsible?
Uncle Ira
3.8 / 5 (13) Dec 19, 2015
Well I am the biologically uninformed Skippy and I don't mind admitting it. But I sure am glad that JVK-Skippy is not allowed to run with this one. Hooyeei, that would be ugly.
SuperThunder
3.4 / 5 (5) Dec 20, 2015
Well I am the biologically uninformed Skippy and I don't mind admitting it.

JVK is the first person I thought of too. I thought "I wonder how this bodes for sniffolution?" It's nice to remember some people warmly in their absence. But hey...

Evolution is simply some modern men's theory that maybe we are all here due to random processes.


JVK will always be with us in spirit.
Vietvet
4 / 5 (8) Dec 20, 2015
Has anyone else noticed that verkle has been reincarnated as BartV?

Personally, I think that people who believe in evolution are blind and uninformed. It does not belong in a science forum.

That's a statement right from verkle and deserves all the scorn and ridicule and banishment that comes with it.

Reported.

Vietvet
4.2 / 5 (5) Dec 21, 2015
@bs

So, you agree with BartV/verkle when he states:

"people who believe in evolution are blind and uninformed. It does not belong in a science forum."

antigoracle
2.1 / 5 (7) Dec 21, 2015
Has anyone else noticed that verkle has been reincarnated as BartV?

Nope! No one cares.
Has anyone noticed your morbid fascination and trolling of verkle?
Yes.
Get a life, you degenerate.
TabulaMentis
2 / 5 (4) Dec 21, 2015
Years ago I thought up an idea called Humanmade Soul Thesis (HST) as an example that evolution will eventually lead to intelligent life something like us that will eventually lead to Gods who will learn how to make universes and humanoids from the desire to become immortal. So yes, evolution is more intelligent than we thought.
my2cts
3.9 / 5 (7) Dec 21, 2015
Evolution ... has nothing to do with science,

You don't know what science is.
and does not pass rigorous science testing.

Yes it does.
It cannot be tested,

Yes it can be.
therefore it is not science. It is a belief system.

You hope so but it is a non sequitur.
It does not have "character" so of course cannot be intelligent.

I agree. Such statements only confuse science with the intelligent design popsicle.
Personally, I think that people who believe in evolution are blind and uninformed.

Nobody cares, you are just an alias.
It does not belong in a science forum.

Non sequitur nr 2 and besides,
you do not belong here because you only push religion.
my2cts
3.5 / 5 (8) Dec 21, 2015

and does not pass rigorous science testing.


Correct, it most certainly doesn't.

It is a belief system. It does not have "character" so of course cannot be intelligent.


Again, correct on both.


Wrong on both counts.
Evolution has been tested experimentally.
You should first inform yourself before judging.
So get cracking:
https://en.wikipe...volution
Bloodyorphan
1.5 / 5 (8) Dec 21, 2015
When you think about aquatic mammals like Dolphins and Whales, it's hard to equate their existence to "Intelligence of evolution", in fact their existence in the aquatic environment would appear downright stupid.

The only way they could exist is for those animals to actively compensate for the completely unnatural environment.

You have to wonder just how fast the evolution of those species was, your average human wouldn't survive in those conditions for more than a couple of weeks, let alone staying in the water long enough to actually breed and give birth.

I think time frame is one of the most overlooked aspects of evolution, and is probably the most relevant indicator of species self directed evolution versus random mutation.
jsdarkdestruction
4.5 / 5 (8) Dec 21, 2015
When you think about aquatic mammals like Dolphins and Whales, it's hard to equate their existence to "Intelligence of evolution", in fact their existence in the aquatic environment would appear downright stupid.
The only way they could exist is for those animals to actively compensate for the completely unnatural environment.

You have to wonder just how fast the evolution of those species was, your average human wouldn't survive in those conditions for more than a couple of weeks, let alone staying in the water long enough to actually breed and give birth.

I think time frame is one of the most overlooked aspects of evolution, and is probably the most relevant indicator of species self directed evolution versus random mutation.

https://en.m.wiki...etaceans
They started semi aquatic.
We still have semi aquatic mammals. So i don't see how that sounds downright stupid.
Bloodyorphan
1.5 / 5 (8) Dec 21, 2015
Think about the reflex of breathing after birth, for these mammals this behavior would be fatal.
(I.e not advantageous to life, therefore stupid evolution)

The implication is that intelligence and instinct can be inherited genetically.
my2cts
3.7 / 5 (9) Dec 22, 2015
For a mammal who likes fish it makes perfect sense to become a dolphin.
Bloodyorphan
1.5 / 5 (8) Dec 22, 2015
No one would have believed the Bully Boys of Phys org would all be on the same Band Wagon confident of their empire over the world.

Slowly, and surely they drew their plans against us ...

You should all start a gang , the "Moronic Regurgitators' " , validating your lives with intellect you stole from others.

You can register as a Religion and ask for donations and tax free status, you'll rival ISIS some day soon and it will all be worthwhile.
jsdarkdestruction
5 / 5 (7) Dec 22, 2015
Bully? We offer alternative views to yours.
Can the martyr crap. You sound like a whiny little kid.
my2cts
3.3 / 5 (7) Dec 23, 2015
@BO
The real bully here is you, with your silly claim that dolphins and whales are stupid animals.
Captain Stumpy
4 / 5 (4) Dec 23, 2015
You should all start a gang , the "Moronic Regurgitators' "
@bo
sorry... that gang name is taken by all the crackpots posting here...

like you, cantdrive and the eu cult, jvk, etc

as for the "bully" part...
i've noticed that whenever challenged to produce evidence that is reputable, all the crackpots claim that the logical, methodical scientific thinkers are bully's...

so, asking for evidence is being a bully?
requiring you to produce the same level of evidence as the scientists for your "beliefs" is being a bully how?

evidence is a powerful tool. especially scientific evidence... it is why the court system values it over everything else -
think on that (if you can)
Bloodyorphan
3 / 5 (2) Dec 25, 2015
You are making assumptions about me, I'm actually supporting the article.

PS. I've ignored all of you know it all judgemental bullies so don't expect many responses from me.
my2cts
3.3 / 5 (7) Dec 25, 2015
@DavidW
Ha the witch finder general is back, plan ting the seeds of hatred disguised as "truth and life".
Who are going to accuse arbitrarily of murder next ?
viko_mx
2.7 / 5 (7) Dec 25, 2015
The information which defines order in one physical system is only product of intelligent being. Тhe physical lаws, fundamental forces and constants are part of the originally established order in the creating event of the universe. They do not increase order in it. Only support order for a certain time and keep the one way entropy at the reasonable level. Only the intelligence and will can move physical processes in certain direction. There is no sense in the existence of physical reality without the intelligent being who to control it and to who this reality sеrve.

my2cts
2.6 / 5 (5) Dec 25, 2015
@ vivo_mx
talking crap again.
my2cts
2.6 / 5 (5) Dec 25, 2015
@DavidW
Lies ? Did not you accuse me of murder and compare me to Hitler?

You are a source of hatred and you contribute to the ignorance and misery of this world.
my2cts
3.3 / 5 (7) Dec 25, 2015
@DavidW
I think you should be banned for trying to start a flame war on the Israel/Palestine conflict here.
You are an obvious lier and bigot and physorg should kick your butt right now.
my2cts
3.3 / 5 (7) Dec 25, 2015
DavidW I accuse you of lying, of arbitrarily accusing people of terrible crimes, of spreading political propaganda on this site. That is worse than the fact that you are insane.
I call on phys.org to clean you and your filth from this blog.
Vietvet
4 / 5 (4) Dec 25, 2015
DavidW has been banned from at least one other forum, lied about it then threatened me for exposing him.

http://phys.org/n...ion.html
my2cts
2.6 / 5 (5) Dec 25, 2015
@DavidW
It is time your activities here are stopped by whoever oversees this blog.
This should not be a forum for dangerous idiots.
my2cts
3.4 / 5 (5) Dec 26, 2015
phys.org, ban this idiot.
OZGuy
5 / 5 (2) Dec 26, 2015
Name every member of your family that is fighting and we may respect your opinion Personally I think you are an ignorant arsehole

Mingx
not rated yet Jan 03, 2016
Jeff Goldblum character in Spielberg's 'Jurasic Park' nailed it with "Life finds a way.."
Everyone knew where he was going with that, and a large number thought he was bound to be right. It had no scientific value nor needed any.

(ergo: what does this piece add, over and above "Natural selection finds a way" at what location in the text)
Mingx
5 / 5 (1) Jan 03, 2016
BloodyOrphan says: "When you think about aquatic mammals like Dolphins and Whales, it's hard to equate their existence to "Intelligence of evolution", in fact their existence in the aquatic environment would appear downright stupid."

The thing with most....well everything really; that's anything, as it were, in 'linguistics' is, more or less; in effect; for all practical purposes; contextual.

You already what? Well of course you bloody knew it. Most 7 year olds have known since the age of 6.

So there's no excuse for what you do there. Taking what someone says grossly out of context, is the same as lying. It's lying.

The suggestion evolution was more intelligent was encased in a Darwinian context of natural selection.

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